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Fr. John Milton: Still Making It Real for Physics Students

February 4, 2016

Circular motion, rotational mechanics and a conical pendulum, oh my!DSC_7355

These may be learning objectives on the AP physics exam, but to students at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, it came down to a memorable lab experiment they completed recently, “When Pigs Fly!”

Literally, they used string to suspend a toy pig — with wings — to the ceiling above their lab table. When they turned on their wings, the pigs flew in a horizontal, circular path, creating a conical pendulum.DSC_7406

The lab was the latest contribution from Fr. John Milton, CSV, a retired physics professor at De Paul University, and founding member of the science staff at Saint Viator High School.

He commutes each week to Cristo Rey St. Martin, where he serves as an advisor to Ms. Kumkum Bonnerjee, physics teacher. Viatorians were among the founding religious communities to back Cristo Rey St. Martin when it opened in 2004, and they continue to support its mission of providing a college prep education to students of limited means.

Fr. John Milton develops physics experiments with Ms. Kumkum Bonnerjee at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep

Fr. John Milton develops physics experiments with Ms. Kumkum Bonnerjee at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep

Fr. Milton learned of the experiment at a meeting of the Illinois State Physics Project, which draws high school and college teachers together to share new labs and teaching methods.

“The flying pigs make it fun,” Fr. Milton says, “but there are solid scientific concepts explored during the experiment.”

Specifically, the experiment challenged students to measure rotational motion and determine the centripetal force. Some of the variables included the mass of the pig, length of the string, diameter of the circular path and the time it took to complete one revolution.DSC_7435

It’s all part of rotational mechanics and Ms. Bonnerjee, says they used creative methods to come to their conclusions.

“The lab went really well,” she said. “Students knew what they were doing.”